Rain drenched Big Sur coastline. Soupy slate blue sea smashing against the craggy, fog covered edge of California. Smeared across Esalen are crowds. Milling quietly to and fro.
Nervous energy in the air, but it could be just me. It probably is just me. Tried to write in my Dollar Store journal when the sun started to bust through a cloud, but got zip. It started raining again. Lightly but wetly. Wet ink on the damn page. The place has a full on communal, spiritual feel – which Google warned me about.
Crashing surf is all over the place. So noisy. Relax on into it. Go ahead. A man in a paisley smoking jacket with gray hair took up a hula hoop on the bright green lawn at the edge of the Huxley Building and dropped it just as quickly while couples wandered aimlessly in Columbia coats holding coffees. Another older man with a graying pony tail dressed like Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. A young dude in a Hawaiian shirt and driving cap turned backward playing an acoustic guitar to his Macbook. I sat a few tables away from him, which may have been a mistake. Time to go back to my room for some beef jerky. This place is far out. Maybe too much for me.
I know I am excited. I know I think about it every single day. I know I can’t wait. At the same time, I fear it will go by so fast that it’ll be over before I know it. Or it will be so alien to how I think I’ll leave with no real idea of what happened. Or I will disagree with everyone or feel like a fish out of water. I suppose I just don’t know how to feel about it. But I can’t wait to go.
I’m talking about my first writers retreat – an unbelievable gift from Natalia for the holidays. I was given the choice of attending a writers conference, a retreat, or something similar that might add to my repertoire as a writer. After checking dates, costs, what was happening in the writing world where and when, I settled on The Writer’s Journey: Crafting Personal Stories that are Vivid, Compelling and True with the fascinating and well-traveled writer Laura Davis. This weekend workshop, located at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, takes off April 8, 2016, and is so close to our house in Seaside I can drive there in no time. Being that it’s Esalen, with views of the roaring Pacific Ocean and healing hot springs (not to mention the presence of literary ghosts in Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac to name a few), I’m also looking at the outing as a short respite from the world and a chance to meet Laura and others who love the written word.
Normally, retreats are the sort of thing I could never afford and, at the cost of such things, I would question whether they’re worthwhile. I’ve often wondered how writers, historically poor, can afford such diversions. Isn’t their time better spent writing? Would it benefit my writing if I went? Like forever? Shouldn’t that money go to an outstanding debt or my empty retirement? Or maybe a new computer or two?
Me and my not-so-gently-used copy of
Natalie Goldberg’s famous book.
But this is where I let go and allow my desire for knowledge to override my common sense. I have never done this sort of thing before and I have been writing for a long time. I want to know what a retreat is like. I want the experience. I could love it so much I’ll yearn to return. I could come away with reasons to never return. One thing is for sure. I will never know unless I go.
And I do plan to follow up on this blog with a post-retreat entry.
The Laura Davis/Esalen retreat includes meditation and personal exploration, and includes a mandatory reading of Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I don’t meditate except when I’m trying to remember what I was supposed to do next on my to-do list. I’ve never thought my inner writer shackled to anything except my own time limitations. But I am excited nonetheless, maybe because I’ve never done these things, maybe because the idea of exploring my inner voice from a new perspective has me uncomfortable, or maybe I feel like I will be pretending (in glorious Big Sur of all places) to be something I’m not: affluent, metaphysical, interesting, privileged, etc.,
It could be we all merely pretend. Do it long enough and you’re an expert, right?